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Commentary

The One Thing You Should Never Do if You Start a Company

Dec 05, 2016

The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What’s one of the best business decisions you’ve ever made?” is written by Caren Maio, founder and CEO of Nestio.

Over the past several years, my startup has gone from a good idea—an online platform to help landlords market and lease apartments—to a business with over 40 employees. As we’ve grown, I’ve discovered a hard truth: It’s incredibly difficult to let go, especially when you’re so invested in your company's success.

But being a “helicopter boss” just doesn’t work as your company scales. It’s not humanly possible, it’s not healthy, and it’s actually counterproductive. While a fast-growing company has thousands of priorities, I’ve learned the hard way that my role ultimately boils down to three critical and interrelated functions: finding talent, keeping talent, and ensuring there’s money in the bank. In fact, the best business decision I’ve ever made is opting to focus on just these—and rein in any helicopter tendencies.

  1. You can’t do it all—so find the people who can

Earlier this year, Nestio completed a Series-A financing round, with plans to quadruple in size within months. I realized I couldn’t continue to have my hands in everything—in fact, it was holding us back. But letting go didn’t come easily. I love sales, for instance. But while I still do a lot of interacting with customers, and even close deals from time to time, I’m no longer involved in every sale. I had to find the right talent and delegate.

Finding great people is an art in itself. But time and time again, I’ve found that leaning on the people you already know and trust and tapping their networks is the surest path to success. To that end, we’ve designed a bonus system for existing employees who refer candidates our way.

As Google (goog) and others have learned, however, it’s not all about the cash. The referrals that matter most, I’ve found, come from people who truly love the company and excel in their roles. Bottom line: A players know A players, and they should be your first call.

See also: What I Learned From Starting a Company With Co-Founders

  1. Once you’ve got them on board, keep them on board

Employee retention is a challenge at companies of all sizes, and there’s no easy fix. Having a solid culture—one that employees want to grow with—is the most important element, of course. But finding ways to keep the lines of communication wide open and offer constructive feedback can also go a long way toward keeping people happy and on board.

The tricky part as CEO is finding the time for communication, especially as your company grows and your calendar becomes packed with board meetings, reports, and presentations. To that end, every other month I hold office hours, where employees share whatever is on their minds. And on a less formal level, I try to never turn down an invitation for a coffee.

During a recent coffee break with a group of newly hired engineers, I discovered that they wanted to know more about our industry. Based on that, we decided to launch a real estate 101 class—a lunch-and-learn that the whole company now participates in—a time investment that is well worth the cost.

  1. Above all, ensure there’s money in the bank

This one’s a no-brainer. If you’ve got no money—if you can’t pay salaries, support marketing campaigns, or even keep the lights on—you don’t have a company. Period. The good news is that, generally speaking, if you’re good at the other two functions above, this one should fall into place. The one area that I did have to brush up on, however, is investor relations.

A key priority for any CEO should be keeping investors engaged, updated, and informed—and doing so long before (and after) the capital is required. Even if you’re not explicitly seeking new funding, you should always be meeting new people and strengthening new investor relationships.

As all-star VC Mark Suster has said, “Fundraising is an ongoing process and not an event on a work plan.” I met with our Series-A investors months before we were raising money. Just like dating before you get married, you want to make sure the relationship will work through thick and thin. Even now, I’m regularly going to our investors for input. I get to benefit from their advice, show my commitment, and stay top of mind.

Five years into this adventure, I’m finally ready to land that helicopter of mine. A lot of people—even me, early on—get a high of self-importance from thinking that the business depends on them. It doesn’t—or at least, it shouldn’t. Thanks to a bit of prioritizing, I’m proud to say that my baby can now walk, talk, and run on its own.

Maio is not an investor of Google.

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